In the Celtic Wheel the Solstices and Equinoxes are considered solar festivals that mark significant points of the sun’s journey. Solstice means “sun stands still”. For three days, at the highest point (Summer solstice) and the lowest point (Winter solstice) of that journey the sun appears to stand still in the skies.
The Summer Solstice or mid-summer, occurs at the point when the Sun has reached its apex. It is, usually celebrated on the fixed day of 21 June in the Northern hemisphere.
For our ancestors, the Summer Solstice was a time of celebrating this light and growth.
The delicate light that pierced the dark void of the Winter Solstice has grown in power and strength over the last six months. This bright burning star is now at its highest point of ecstasy in the Sky. Its gifts of warmth and light have ensured the germination, budding and flowering of the seeds that were sown in the deep winter. There is much to celebrate!
However, at this very moment of triumph, we must face the journey back towards the darkness as the sun’s power begins to decline. From the Summer Solstice, the days will gradually grow shorter from now on.
This barely perceivable shift from expansion to a turning back inwards is an important element in marking the Summer solstice. The ritual celebrations of the Celts reflect the significance of this inward turn which focused on harnessing, gathering and storing the energy of the Sun just at its most powerful.
Summer Solstice traditions & ritual themes
1. Summer Solstice bonfire
A bonfire would be lit at sunset as an elicitation of the sun’s fertilising power, in the knowledge that soon that power would diminish. As the fire died down members of the tribe who were going through a major change in their lives jumped over the fire to draw in and store the energy of the sun as protection for the onward journey.
The next day ashes from the fire were spread on the land to summon the fertilising power of the sun(fire).
The tradition of lighting bonfires in many townlands and villages across Ireland on St John’s Eve (June 23rd) is thought to be connected to the ancient tradition.
2. Gathering and harvesting medicinal herbs
Healing plants that were imbued with the power of Belenos, “bright shining one” (the Sun God we met at Bealtaine) were picked. Belenos was the patron of these healing plants. The Druids of the Tribe would harvest these herbs in a special magical ritual.
Summer Solstice sites
People gather at the Grange Stone circle at Lough Gur in County Limerick which is aligned with the rising sun of the Summer Solstice. It is a magnificent site, the largest of its kind in Ireland, encompassing 113 standing stones.
People also gather to celebrate the Summer Solstice at sunrise on the Hill of Tara in Meath which was the seat of the High King of Ireland where the festival would have been celebrated in ancient times.
The wisdom of the Summer Solstice for our contemporary lives
At this time in the wheel it can help to reflect on the following themes -
· Our relationship to success – How are you about shining your brightest in the world, really reaching for your full potential. We all dream of success but are we willing to burn brightly, being successful or do we fear what that might mean for us?
· The danger of living in the unhealthy masculine mode - if the sun wasn’t tempered by rain or by the natural waning of its solar power it would scorch the crops and risk the harvest. In the same way, we must learn that living in the unhealthy masculine mode of busyness, strive-drive needs to be tempered with the feminine mode of rest, pleasure an play. Otherwise, we too will burn out.
· The wisdom of polarity – realising that every success, every high point has within it the seeds of its decline and the potential of failure. Is it the fear of failure that gets in the way of you shining your brightest?